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Japan and Russia should not rush to solve every problem concerning their long-standing territorial row because such a stance may lead to a failure to address the issue, former Russian acting Prime Minister Egor Gaidar said Monday.

“The worst approach is everything or nothing” in resolving the territorial issue, Gaidar said in an interview with The Japan Times.

Japan and Russia are currently promoting efforts to conclude a peace treaty by the end of 2000 by resolving ownership of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido. The two countries have not yet signed a peace treaty due to the territorial dispute over Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets, which were seized from Japan by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

Gaidar, known as the “reform czar” for his Western-style economic policies, said that the relationship between the two countries is “evidently positive” and mutual understanding has been deepened. He said that improvements are apparent in bilateral relations as both countries expanded a visa-free visit program between Japan and the four disputed islands as well as concluded a fisheries pact.

These “are very good steps in the right direction,” Gaidar said. Last February, the two countries signed the fisheries pact, which is aimed at ensuring the safety of Japanese fishing boats operating off the disputed islands. They carefully crafted clauses of the agreement so as not to affect the positions of either nation in the territorial dispute.

Gaidar said he is against setting deadlines for concluding the peace treaty and that it will be impossible to do it exactly on time. But he said that the two leaders made the target date to move toward that direction and that it is quite possible to make substantial progress.

Gaidar said that the two countries should try to solve easy issues before tackling the most difficult ones. “The worst approach is to try to start from the most difficult solutions, then (they will) go nowhere,” Gaidar said.

Hashimoto and Yeltsin made a breakthrough in the bilateral relationship last November at an informal summit in Krasnoyarsk, Eastern Siberia, by agreeing to make efforts to conclude a peace treaty by the end of 2000. They agreed to boost efforts last month when they met again in Kawana, Shizuoka Prefecture, for another informal summit.

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